When Mayor Ernie Daykin took the controls of the excavator for the ceremonial start of the demolition, it took a few seconds to get the knack of it, before he raised the big shovel and pushed it against the empty hulk and knocked down a few pieces of wall and lumber.
Then the real operator took over and within minutes, one of the four remaining buildings at Northumberland Court on Fraser Street was a pile of shredded two-by-fours, roof trusses, stucco and bits of twisted metal.
After years of bylaw enforcement, legal wrangling and politics, Northumberland, aka, the ghetto, is no more.
The notorious Northumberland is now a heap of rubble that soon will be carted to a dump. The ground will be scraped clean and new buildings will rise in what used to be a big blight on downtown Maple Ridge.
“To quote Mr. Rogers, it’s a wonderful day in the neighbourhood,” Daykin said.
All of Maple Ridge council showed up to watch the tearing down of the first building while neighbours lined the streets to do the same.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Jim Osler who lives nearby. “It’s been a long-time coming.” With the complex gone, it should be easier for other landlords to rent in the area, he added.
“It dragged out. It dragged out. It dragged out,” added Ron Smith who lives in the new condos across the street.
“The whole neighbourhood will change now,” another bystander added.
Watching from a distance, with her two tykes, just outside her house at the south end of the complex was Cheryl Sherman.
She has lived next door for a year, then one house away from the troubled complex for three years. Even before she moved to Maple Ridge, when she was in Prince George, she had read about the complex.
It’s been a long time coming and most of the street will be celebrating, she said.
While she’d lived nearby during the heyday when police, fire and bylaw officers were regular visitors, her family had no real problems with the neighbours.
Sherman though wonders how the complex deteriorated so badly and why residents continued to pay rent.
Still, her family managed to co-exist with the drama next door.
“We were pretty luck actually,” she said, adding they didn’t have any problem with breakins or crime.
Councillors were in a jubilant mood at being able to see the end of the complex.
“I don’t think you can understand the feeling,” said Coun. Cheryl Ashlie.
She never thought it would take three years, all of the present council’s term, to see the demolition.
It was important to follow the proper steps and work through the legal issues, added Coun. Judy Dueck. “We have no choice but to follow the law.”
Coun. Craig Speirs said he considered the demolition one of the current council’s successes.
Council wanted to be more aggressive in moving on it, but couldn’t. Once redevelopment begins, “it will send a big signal to the rest of the downtown,” he added.
Vancouver developer Ghalib Rawji says he’s continuing with his plans to redevelop the site.
“It’s a pleasure to be a part of this,” said Rawji who bought the condos from Jack Athwal and four other owners.
“Looking forward to building now,” he said.
Despite glooming world economics, he’s proceeding with plans to build 29 townhouses, apartments and some commercial space on the lot.
“We’ve got a great product, great pricing. I’m not worried at all.”
Plus, by the time it comes to market after March 2013, the Harmonized Sales Tax should be gone and the more real-estate friendly GST and PST system will be back in place. “That’s a five-per-cent discount right there,” he added.
The machinery moved in after a protracted process that finally saw Maple Ridge council issue a demolition order in July after the buildings had been entered and wiring tampered with.